Updated: Oct 9, 2022
"It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings."
--- Daniel 2:21 ---
“And four great beasts were coming up from the sea, different from one another."
--- Daniel 7:3 ---
This is not a fable about sea monsters. This is about a terrifying vision that was given to the Old Testament prophet Daniel during "the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon" (Daniel 7:1). Belshazzar, grandson of King Nebuchadnezzar, reigned 554-539 B.C. Approximately 650 years later (around A.D. 95) a similar vision was given to the Apostle John as recorded in the New Testament, Revelation chapter 13.
During the third year of King Jehoiakim of Judah (605 B.C.), Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon sieged Jerusalem (Daniel 1:2). Nebuchadnezzar "ordered Ashpenaz, his chief of officials" to "bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans" (Daniel 1:3-4). Daniel was one of the young sons of Israel taken from his home and exiled to the ancient city of Babylon.
King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream during the second year of his reign (604 B.C.).
After accurately revealing to Nebuchadnezzar the dream he had of a great statue and interpreting the meaning of the dream (Daniel 2:1-47), "the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts, and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon" (Daniel 2:48).
This great statue represented four kingdoms:
Neo-Babylonian Empire: head of gold - Daniel 2:32, 37-38
Medo-Persian Empire: breast and arms made of silver - Daniel 2:32, 39
Graeco-Macedonian Empire: belly and thighs made of bronze - Daniel 2:32, 39
Roman Empire: legs made of iron, feet partly made of iron and partly made of clay - Daniel 2:33, 40-43
The statue is then struck by a stone "cutout without hands" that crushes the "feet of iron and clay." The remaining parts of this statue are also crushed. Their remnants became "like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found." The "stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth" (Daniel 2:34-35).
God will establish His kingdom on this earth, and it will endure forever!
“In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever" (Daniel 2:44).
Vision of the Four Beasts
Approximately 50 years later (504 B.C.), during the first year of the reign of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a "vision by night" and saw "four winds of heaven" stirring up the great sea. "Four great beasts were coming up from the sea, different from one another" (Daniel 7:1-3).
What or who are these beasts? The answer is provided in Daniel 7:17: "These great beasts, which are four in number, are four kings who will arise from the earth."
The First Beast - the Neo-Babylonian Empire
“The first was like a lion and had the wings of an eagle. I kept looking until its wings were plucked, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man; a human mind also was given to it" (Daniel 7:4).
The beast was like a lion. Statues of lions scattered around Babylon were symbolic of the majesty and power of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. This beast also had the wings of an eagle symbolizing this empire's ability to soar high and, with its speed, swoop down and swiftly conquer other nations. Concerning consequences for Israel's disobedience, Deuteronomy 28:49-50 states “The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand, a nation of fierce countenance who will have no respect for the old, nor show favor to the young." This prophecy against Israel is repeated in Jeremiah 5:15: “Behold, I am bringing a nation against you from afar, O house of Israel,” declares the LORD. “It is an enduring nation, it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language you do not know, nor can you understand what they say."
Both scripture and ancient history clearly testify that the first beast is the Neo-Babylonian Empire (625-539 B.C.). The Lord used the Neo-Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar II, to take Judah and Israel into captivity for seventy years because of their continued disobedience as prophesied in Jeremiah 25:8-11: “Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Because you have not obeyed My words, behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will send to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land and against its inhabitants and against all these nations round about; and I will utterly destroy them and make them a horror and a hissing, and an everlasting desolation. ‘Moreover, I will take from them the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp. ‘This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years."
2nd Kings 25:8-21 records the destruction of the house of the Lord (Solomon's Temple) as well as all of the houses throughout the city of Jerusalem during the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar (586 B.C.).
The Neo-Babylonian Empire consisted of the following kings: Nebopolassar (625-605 B.C.), Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 B.C.), Amel-Marduk (562-559 B.C.), Neriglissar (559-554 B.C.), Labashi-Marduk (554 B.C.), and Nabonidus (king)/Belshazzar (co-regent) (554-539 B.C.).
The Lord tells the prophet Jeremiah what will happen at the end of the seventy years: "‘Then it will be when seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,’ declares the LORD, ‘for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting desolation. ‘I will bring upon that land all My words which I have pronounced against it, all that is written in this book which Jeremiah has prophesied against all the nations" (Jeremiah 25:12-13).
History records that after the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II (562 B.C.), the Neo-Babylonian Empire fell into political turmoil and instability. It's "wings were plucked" - it no longer had the ability to swiftly conquer other nations. "It was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man; a human mind also was given to it" - this empire lost its animal-like tendencies and became like a man who is limited in his aggressive inclinations. Ten years after conquering the Medes, King Cyrus II (Cyrus the Great) of Persia entered and conquered the city of Babylon without a battle in 539 B.C. This was fulfillment of prophecy (Isaiah 13:17-22, Jeremiah 51:11, 27-32). The Neo-Babylonian empire was "divided and given over to the Medes and Persians" (Daniel 5:28). Belshazzar was slain that same night (Daniel 5:30). This ended the seventy years of Israel's captivity.
The Second Beast - The Medo-Persian Empire
“And behold, another beast, a second one, resembling a bear. And it was raised up on one side, and three ribs were in its mouth between its teeth; and thus, they said to it, ‘Arise, devour much meat!’" (Daniel 7:5).
This beast resembled a bear. This is the only verse throughout scripture that mentions a bear, which symbolizes the rugged power of the Medo-Persian Empire (539-331 B.C.). This beast "was raised up on one side." The raised side indicates the Medes or the Persians. Since the Persians conquered the Medes, the raised side more than likely represents the Persians. In either case, there was an unequal balance of power within this combined alliance.
"Three ribs were in its mouth between its teeth." Some believe that the ribs represent previous countries conquered by Cyrus II. Others believe that the ribs represent the three countries conquered by the Medo-Persian Empire: Babylon (539 B.C.), Lydia (546 B.C.), and Egypt (525 B.C.).
Over one hundred years before the reign of Cyrus II, Isaiah was given this prophesy by the Lord: “It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.’ And he declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’ And of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.’” Thus says the LORD to Cyrus His anointed, Whom I have taken by the right hand, to subdue nations before him and to loose the loins of kings; To open doors before him so that gates will not be shut" (Isaiah 44:28-45:1).
During the first year of Cyrus II (539 B.C.) the Lord fulfilled His promise to rebuild the temple destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar approximately forty-seven years earlier. "Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah" (Ezra 1:1-2).
The second temple was completed around 516/515 B.C. during "the sixth year of the reign of King Darius" (Ezra 6:15), nearly seventy-years after Solomon's temple was destroyed and twenty-three years after the decree was issued by King Cyrus to build a new temple.
At its height, during the reign of Darius I, the Medo-Persian Empire controlled more than 2.9 million square miles (7.5 million square kilometers) of land and spanned three continents (Asia, Africa and Europe). This beast devoured much meat!
The Medo-Persian Empire consisted of the following kings: Cyrus II (539-530 B.C.), Cambyses II (530-522 B.C.), Bardiya (522 B.C.), Darius 1 Hystaspes (522-486 B.C.), Xerxes 1 or Ahasuerus (486-464 B.C.), Artaxerxes I Longimanus (464-424 B.C.), Darius II Nothus (423-404 B.C.), Artaxerxes II Mnemon (404-359 B.C.), Artaxerxes III Ochus (359-338 B.C.), Arses (338-335 B.C.), and Darius III Codomanus (335-331 B.C.).
The Third Beast - The Graeco-Macedonian Empire
“After this I kept looking, and behold, another one, like a leopard, which had on its back four wings of a bird; the beast also had four heads, and dominion was given to it" (Daniel 7:6).
This beast resembled a leopard with four wings of a bird on its back. Leopards are known for their speed, keen eyesight and keen hearing, enabling them to stalk their prey and pounce on them unexpectedly. It’s four wings not only gave this leopard more speed, but they also enabled this leopard to see in four directions. Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) is well known for moving with the speed of a leopard to defeat his enemies and conquer their kingdoms. His armies invaded Asia Minor in 334 B.C. and, within the next ten years, conquered the entire Medo-Persian empire. The Graeco-Macedonian Empire stretched from Europe to North Africa and India.
Although there are several views on what the four heads mean, the most acceptable view is that these heads are four of Alexander's generals. Upon the death of Alexander in 323 BC, the Graeco-Macedonian Empire plunged into civil war. By 300 B.C. the empire was divided into four regions which were ruled by four of Alexander’s generals: Cassander (Greece and Macedonia), Seleucus I Nicator (Babylonia and Syria), Lysimachus (Thrace and Bithynia), and Ptolemy I (parts of Arabia, Palestine, and Egypt).
The Third Macedonian War (171-168 B.C.) was fought between the Roman Republic and King Perseus of Macedon, grandson of King Philip V (222-179 B.C.). Rome defeated Perseus who died as a prisoner in Italy. By 146 B.C. Macedonia became a Roman province. In 65 B.C. Rome conquered the Seleucid Macedonian kingdom in Asia under its last king, Antiochus XII. Rome completed its conquest of the Graeco-Macedonian Empire in 30 B.C.
The Fourth Beast - The Roman Empire
“After this I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed and trampled down the remainder with its feet; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. “While I was contemplating the horns, behold, another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the first horns were pulled out by the roots before it; and behold, this horn possessed eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth uttering great boasts" (Daniel 7:7-8).
Before delving into this passage, I want to briefly talk about the "Twin Peaks" theory as related to prophecy. If you have ever driven to the Rocky Mountains or to a city with tall buildings like New York, from a distance some of the tallest mountains or buildings look like they are right next to each other. As you get closer, you discover that there is some distance between those same mountains or buildings. This is the case when it comes to future prophecy. From Daniel's viewpoint a little over 2500 years ago, he saw a fourth beast that was different from the three previous beasts. What he didn't see was that the kingdom represented by the fourth beast would exist in two different periods of time separated by hundreds or thousands of years. We know this today because one empire, the Ancient Roman Empire, rose and fell several hundred years later. We also know this from the testimony of Scripture that a future empire will rise, a revived Roman Empire, that will usher in the Anti-Christ followed by the visible and glorious return of Jesus Christ to earth.
The Ancient Roman Empire
There is overwhelming agreement among theologians that the fourth beast is the Roman Empire. Unlike the previous three beasts, this beast was determined to defeat and conquer its enemies and destroy anyone who did not totally submit to its authority - it was "dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong." With its "large iron teeth", the Roman Empire "devoured and crushed and trampled down the remainder with its feet." The Roman Empire conquered all of the land occupied by the Medo-Persians, Graeco-Macedonians, and the Babylonians along with their populations. The Roman Empire demanded strict obedience to its emperors and their appointed prefects.
Crucifixion was not new to the Roman Empire. It was used by the Persians, Seleucids, and Carthaginians as a form of capital punishment. In 519 B.C. the Persian king Darius I crucified 3000 political opponents in Babylon. In 88 B.C. the Judaean king and high priest, Alexander Jannaeus, crucified 800 opponents of Pharisaicism. The Romans perfected crucifixion to be as cruel as humanly possible, ensuring their victims would suffer and die a very slow and excruciating death. They used crucifixion as a warning to others - obey us or this will be your fate!
The Roman Empire was founded by Caesar Augustus who reigned from 27 B.C. to A.D. 14. We see him in Luke 2:1 - "Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth." He was succeeded by Tiberius Caesar Augustus (A.D. 14-37), Caligula Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (A.D. 37-41), Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (A.D. 41-54), and Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (A.D. 54-68). Four emperors ruled from A.D. 68-69: Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian. The Flavian dynasty takes us to the end of the first century and the completion of the Scriptures. Its emperors were Vespasian (A.D. 69-73), Titus (A.D. 79-81), and Domitian (A.D. 81-96).
In Matthew 24:1-2, Jesus gave this prophecy about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. "Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”
In A.D. 70, following a four-year revolt by the Jews against Rome's authority, 30,000 Roman soldiers led by General Titus destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, leaving only the outer retaining wall of the Temple - the "Wailing Wall" - intact. The Muslim "Dome of the Rock" was built on the Temple Mount, where the Jewish Temple once stood, in A.D. 1022-1023.
The ancient Roman Empire was divided into the Eastern or Byzantine Empire and the Western Empire in A.D. 364 as prophesied in Daniel 2:41: "In that you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it will be a divided kingdom." The Western Empire fell in A.D. 476 when the Germanic barbarian king Odoacer deposed the last emperor of this empire. Was this it for the Roman Empire, or is more of this empire to come in the future?
The Revived Roman Empire
"And it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. “While I was contemplating the horns, behold, another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the first horns were pulled out by the roots before it; and behold, this horn possessed eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth uttering great boasts" (Daniel 7:7-8).
Unlike the three previous beasts (Daniel 7:3-6), this beast had ten horns. Daniel was very curious about this fourth beast. He wanted to know more about it, especially "the meaning of the ten horns that were on its head and the other horn which came up, and before which three of them fell, namely, that horn which had eyes and a mouth uttering great boasts and which was larger in appearance than its associates" (Daniel 7:20). It was further revealed to Daniel that this "horn was waging war with the saints and overpowering them until the Ancient of Days came and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom" (Daniel 7:21-22). Additionally, "‘As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings will arise; and another will arise after them, and he will be different from the previous ones and will subdue three kings. ‘He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. ‘But the court will sit for judgment, and his dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever. ‘Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him’" (Daniel 7:24-27).
How do we know that what was revealed to Daniel about the future didn't already occur? Stay tuned for my next blog: "The Little Horn"
The following resources were used in the development of this blog post.
English Standard Version Study Bible, 2008 Edition, Crossway Bibles
New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, The Lockman Foundation
The Book of Daniel, Dr. Douglas J. Simpson, Second Edition 2000, Randall House Publications
"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth"
2nd Timothy 2:15
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture cited in this post is taken from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update.